US Forces Cross Euphrates Near Baghdad
DEBKAfile, 31 March 2003
The US dawn assault against Ash-Shatra north of Nasiryah Monday, to seek out senior Iraqi regime and Baath officials directing the terrorist and guerrilla warfare against coalition forces, diverted attention from a far more critical American initiative. While Ash-Shatra is mostly under air assault, the American 101st Airborne Divisions screaming eagles, fighting since Thursday to drive a wedge between two Special Republican Guards divisions - Al Medina south of Karbala and Hamourabi south west of the Bahr a Milh Lake - has succeeded in breaking through Iraqi defense lines. While engaged in street fighting in Hindiya, the first units are crossing the Euphrates from west to east, 60 miles south of Baghdad.
DEBKAfiles military sources reveal that the Iraqis have forced a gap in the river embankment at that point to flood terrain in the path of the American forces advancing on the capital. They also report that the Iraqis have driven another gap in the Tigris embankment north of Al Amara, to flood the route to be covered by American ground forces on their way from points south of Najef to the river crossing at al Kut.
If the 101st secures Hindiya today and is able to widen its bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, it will have opened the road to the Iraqi capital to American columns.
This achievement will owe much to the tactical methods practiced by the 101st Division. Before the main force moves forward, it sends behind enemy lines a large number of small reconnaissance squads of no more than 5 to 10 men each. They spy out enemy tank, artillery, control and command positions, call up the divisions helicopters and, using laser and infra red instruments, guide them into attack. Only after enemy artillery and armor are wiped out does the main body move forward and storm the virtually defenseless enemy lines.
The battle for Hindiya is the wars potential turning point. Saddam Hussein must decide whether or not he can set up a second line of defense on the western outskirts of the city to prevent the 101st from breaking through in two heads one aiming for Saddam International Airport, the second for Al Falujjah northwest of Baghdad, to cut off the main expressway leading west out of Baghdad to the Jordanian capital of Amman.
This dual movement would amount to a siege of the northern and western outskirts
of the capital. The Iraqi ruler will also have to decide whether to try and
halt American troops by opening the floodgates between the great rivers or to
resort without further ado to his weapons of mass destruction.